Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Northern Stage at Home livestream of stage performances
21-30 October 2021: 2 hours 50 minutes
Farnworth-born Jim Cartwright’s Our Town for late 1980s northern Britain has become seen as something of a classic of its time.
Its scenes of the lives of working-class people in a land of no-work, as if witnessed by all-seeing eyes through the walls of one street (it’s even lost half its name, hence “ … Road” as the title) are bleak, dark, pessimistic and end on a note of pure desperation, without a hint of redemption.
It made Cartwright’s name, and he went on to write The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and much more.
Were the late 80s really that bad? Maybe. The only thing the play has to offer at the end is “escape”. Perhaps many did.
Newcastle based Northern Stage, with artistic boss Natalie Ibu directing, have re-homed it from Lancashire to their own Tyneside turf. But it’s still essentially the same play – only the regional voice sounds have changed. There’s no attempt to Geordie-ise it – no mention of pit closures and strikes – or update it. It’s still a piece of its period, and if you don’t know what collecting your giro meant, or who Otis Redding was, then you’ll have to find out.
That’s what I really liked about the production: it’s faithful to its subject and done with loving attention to detail. The two-level, multiple-interior set is brilliantly designed by Amelia Jan Hankin. And they’ve done all they can to lighten things up at the interval, as DJ Bisto presides with glitterball and Beatoven Disco, and bags of chips are handed round the audience – but that’s really only short-term contrast to the encircling gloom of the play itself.
It requires a very big cast, and Northern Stage follow their principle of inclusivity by choosing on a colour-blind basis (since they all talk North-Eastern, that never jars, and if you object to Cartwright’s use of the word “black” to mean depressive, then that’s your problem) and without identifying individual actors’ roles. Several have more than one – except for Scullery, the character who hosts the whole show, beautifully played by Michael Hodgson. I’d also distinguish Ike Bennett and Ruby Crepin-Glyne in their portrayals of Joey and Clare, who have some of the most eloquent writing in the play as it focusses on the Road’s younger inhabitants and anguish and anger become ever more its focus.
Northern Stage at Home is the streamed alternative to attendance in person at the theatre in Barras Bridge near Newcastle Civic Centre, and though the show is presented with a fair variety of camera positions and zooming-in and out, it suffers a bit from mic positioning at the front of the stage, so speakers who aren’t front and centre are picked up with some added hall acoustic.
Age guidance: 14+. Access via www.northernstage.co.uk/event/at-home-road